Body Scan Exercise Overview
The meditative body scan exercise entails bringing awareness to each part of the body, starting with the feet and moving up from there. Generally you want to do this as part of a daily routine in a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable.
You may want to do shorter or quick check-ins with a particular part of your body in certain situations. Like at work, you may want to check in with your back, shoulders, and/or wrists if you spend a lot of time at the computer. Or your knees if you are lifting heavy things.
There is no right or wrong way and it’s important that you are self-compassionate to yourself for how often and how long you do a Body Scan. If working the exercise into your daily routine is too difficult, do it when you can.
The benefit of doing the Body Scan regularly is to help stay in the present as a mindfulness way of being. You may catch early warning signs of stress build up in your body so that you can take action before it becomes a bigger problem.
Doing a Body Scan can bring you out of your head and into your body. Being in touch with your body, the sensations, feelings, and emotions that come with living as a human are all components of your well being. Recognizing the messages your body is giving you can increase your well-being and contribute to stress reduction.
Tips for the body scan
During the body scan, you may get distracted, fall asleep, find your mind wandering, and/or feel body sensations. Consider that it is a part of, and a challenge of, the exercise. To be present is a process, not a point that you achieve and hold onto rigidly.
The moment you realize that you are not present in the body scan, you are in fact, already present. Simply realizing that you are not present is a success, and the non-presence makes success possible, as in our world of duality, one has no meaning without the other.
If your mind wanders a lot, consider these thoughts as passing through. Then try to gently bring your attention back to the body scan in the present moment. There is no right or wrong way to do the body scan, which can be considered a form of meditation.
Bump your focus away from ideas such as success, failure, doing really well, or trying to relax the body. The body scan is not a competition or a skill to be achieved. It is a way of experiencing moments and contributes to your well-being.
Practice will help you integrate it into your daily routine and a new helpful habit. I like to think of it as a twist on the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ to ‘practice makes permanent.’
Approach your experience with an accepting attitude. Allow it to just happen. If you try to avoid, suppress, or expel unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations, chances are high that they will just return more often.
Accept what comes through and let it pass. Remember to take a self-compassionate attitude toward any thoughts. Then direct your attention back to the body scan.
Body Scan Benefits
Benefit: Become more in tune with your body
The body scan method allows us to become more in tune and in touch with bodily sensations and signals. The body scan teaches us to recognize and experience physical sensations. The body scan allows us to experience the noise of our thoughts through our bodies.
Much of our attention focuses on our thoughts and on matters outside our body, such as our job, social environment, friends, relationships, finances, and family. This increases the risk that one will pay very little attention to physical signals.
The body scan method allows us to determine the strength of the noise created by our thoughts. The recognition of physical signals, such as tension or restlessness, is important, especially for limiting stress and burn-out.
Once you start noticing where you feel stress in your body, how it shows up, and in which citations, you can start developing skills for how to address these stressors.
Benefit: Messages from your Body Scan can provide early warning signs
As you develop your Body Scan practice, you will start to notice differences in rigidity or flexibility, new pain, soreness you didn’t realize was present, and nuances that could go undetected without directed focus.
If you notice differences or minor but new pains, you could detect something early and discuss with your doctor before it becomes more serious. You can monitor changes, keep a log, or practice increased stress relief.
Noticing messages through a Body Scan can draw your attention to something small resulting in avoidance and/or prevention of something that could become more serious.
Benefit: Increase our ability to stay focused on a task and develop self-control
Being able to notice when attention wanders is a critical component of successful self-control.
The body scan teaches us to draw attention to a specific point and detect when that attention wanders. The effect of this training of attention can increase our ability to focus attention on a specific task, like a conversation with someone, washing the dishes, writing, working, exercise, or enjoying a meal.
The body scan can provide insight into the nature and pattern of thoughts in general. This would allow you to notice recurring themes of thoughts that are played repeatedly like an old record.
Benefit: Cultivates self-compassion
The body scan teaches us to cultivate self-compassion. Rather than criticizing ourselves for being distracted, attention is returned to the body, gently without judgment.
Sometimes being kind to ourselves is really hard. This exercise gives you an opportunity to purposely practice self-compassion.
It’s okay to be excited to do this exercise and think about how you get to say positive self-messages to yourself. You are rooting for your own success. I recommend coming up with some positive self-motivating words that will help you guide yourself back to the scan.
Benefit: Reduce mental and physical stress
Studies have provided evidence based research supporting a reduction in mental and physical stress by doing meditation body scans. You can read more about it here on mindful.org.
Body Scan Tips
- Try to do the body scan at home or a private space where you feel comfy and secure.
- The more repetition or habitual, the greater the effect.
- Make it part of your daily routine.
- Schedule a time of day at work to do a quick scan.
- The body scan will provide the greatest benefits by doing it daily. But if you cannot, try to practice as often as possible.
- Choose a fixed time and place. It can help enormously to reserve a certain time of day on your calendar for the exercise.
- You can shorten or lengthen the body scan as needed to fit your schedule.
- You can use it anytime you want to check-in with your body.
- You can just focus on one particular body area as needed and especially if you are time limited. Like with your back after sitting at your computer for a long period of time, or your knees if you are lifting heavy items.
- Do the body scan as part of a monthly full moon releasing ritual.
Guidelines for How to do the Body Scan
Remember there is no right or wrong way to do the body scan. These guidelines will help get you started. They will take you through the whole process if this concept is totally new to you. Remember these are guidelines, not rules that must be followed exactly. Within the guidelines you will see some options and variants for how to individualize it for you.
After you become comfortable with the concept, you may have other ideas of what will work best for you. That’s great. What is important is honoring your voice and using motivational statements for growth. No self condescending or berating words.
- Find a place where you will be safe, secure, and undisturbed.
- Lie on your back on a firm mat or cushioned floor, arms resting by your side, palms facing upward.
- If you find it difficult to stay awake during the meditation, it may be helpful to open your eyes or prop your head up with a pillow. If neither helps, you can change positions that would help you stay awake. Consider other positions like standing or sitting in a chair.
- Close your eyes and start to focus your attention on the fact that you are breathing. Allow each inhale and exhale to flow through your body. Notice how your body feels with each breath as well as where the breath flows.
- With each breath, allow yourself to sink deeper into the floor.
- Your mind will inevitably wander through this practice as that is what all minds do. When this happens, notice it and gently and kindly bring your attention back to the part of the body on which you were focusing. Use positive self-statements when this happens as an option.
- As you continue to breathe, on the inhale, imagine the breath filling your lungs and then moving down into the belly, into the left leg, and all the way out of the left toes. As you exhale, imagine or feel your breath moving in through your toes, up the left leg, through the abdomen, all the way up into your chest, and finally out through your nose. With a playful approach, practice a couple of cycles of this kind of breathing.
- Use this breathing technique throughout the remainder of the scan. When you notice a tense or unpleasant sensation, breathe into it and imagine relaxing, releasing, and letting go.
- Notice all the sensations in your body, beginning with the bottom of your left foot. Where do you feel pressure, rigidity, pain, flexibility? What does it feel like? Note what feels good, relaxed, and calm?
- Move with your attention from the bottom of your left foot, up the ankle to the left leg, lower leg, knee, upper leg, across the pelvic region, down the right leg. Move into your pelvic region, scanning the front and back of your body. Notice all the sensations that arise and let them go.
- As you focus on each part of the body, observe what you see and feel there without forcing anything to happen. If you don’t feel anything in an area of your body, that’s okay. Simply act as an observer, noticing how your body feels today.
- Continue up through the stomach, upper chest, neck, down the left arm, back up through the collarbone down the right arm, up to your hairline, forehead, and finally face.
- Remember to observe each small area of every part of your body. For example, you may want to notice what is happening in between your toes, ankles, shoulders, ears, tongue. Investigate every area of the body with gentle curiosity.
- After observing every point in the body, feel your body as a whole, breathing in and out, fully alive.
After you scan and if you have time, journal. Keeping a journal of your scans will help you monitor changes and track pains you may want to share with your doctor. You will also learn where you feel good and strong. Here are some questions you could journal on:
Where do you feel pressure, rigidity, pain, flexibility?
What body parts are asking for your attention?
What feels good, relaxed, and calm?
While a Body Scan can contribute to your well-being, it is not a substitute for your medical care and you should always consult with your doctor before starting any type of health practice.